İnce brings a new style to Turkish politics

İnce brings a new style to Turkish politics


Muharrem İnce, the presidential candidate for the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has brought a new style to Turkish politics since starting his campaign after being nominated by CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

The first thing İnce did upon being nominated was go to Friday prayers last week at the historic Haci Bayram Mosque in the capital Ankara. That could irritate some staunch secularists within the CHP, who may find exhibiting religious beliefs a violation of the Kemalist tradition. But that is how İnce is in real life, he was not pretending. As a school teacher from the Western Anatolian town of Yalova, from a traditionally CHP family, he has long been a strong follower of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and also a Muslim believer: A typical Turkish secular Muslim. The second thing he did upon his nomination was visit Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Atatürk, to pay his respects.

As soon as he was nominated, videos started spreading on social media showing him wearing a rural flat cap and dancing the “zeybek” (a folk dance shared by Turks and Greeks on both sides of the Aegean Sea) with a group of women. The video may have been spun to show the kind of simple person İnce is, but the video was shot at the wedding of his son where he is dancing very naturally. The video turned out to be another good bit of campaigning material for him, showing him in a natural and unaffected light.

İnce then announced that he would pay courtesy visits to all rival presidential candidates to wish them good luck. That was not a problem for Meral Akşener, the leader of the right-wing Good (İYİ) Party, as she had already agreed to ally with the CHP for the parliamentary election that will be held on the same day as the presidential election, June 24. The same applied for Temel Karamollaoğlu, the leader of the conservative Felicity (Saadet) Party, who is also in the same alliance.

But there could be problems for two other leaders. The first is President Tayyip Erdoğan, the candidate of from the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) alliance with Devlet Bahçeli’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and minor nationalist/religious Greater Unity Party (BBP). Would Erdoğan acknowledge and receive İnce as his rival and guest?

The second possible problem could be with Selahattin Demirtaş, the candidate of the Kurdish issue-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), since he has been in prison for over a year as the former co-chair of the party, over accusations of helping terrorism by giving support to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). If it were Kılıçdaroğlu who said he was going to visit Demirtaş, he would face the risk of being accused of “collaborating with terrorists” with under-the-belly blows to Kılıçdaroğlu implying his Alevi background.

But nothing happened when İnce said this. Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül said he understood this would be a humanitarian courtesy visit and would be given permission. There is still no news from the presidential compound. (Karamollaoğlu later said he would also visit Demirtaş and asked for his immediate release from prison.)

In the meantime on May 8, while addressing the AK Parti group in the parliament, Erdoğan said he was troubled about whether to take Kılıçdaroğlu as his opposition in the presidential race or “the poor man he pushed forward,” implying İnce, who immediately responded and said he was proud to be a poor man rather than a “shady one.”

Yesterday on May 9, İnce paid a visit to Demirtaş in Edirne and delivered a speech at a rally there after the prison visit. In Edirne, the CHP candidate said he relied on young people, especially the women of Turkey, for a better future.

“I have no problem with the headscarf,” he said as an indirect reference to the CHP’s former firm stance against it in public offices, since İnce is someone who also has female relatives who wear headscarves. “Wear it if you like, wherever you like. But I will not let anyone use that for their political purposes.”

Announcing that Erdoğan gave him an appointment that night (Wednesday, May 9), İnce went back to Erdoğan’s definition of him as a poor man: “As the son of the poor lorry driver Şerif,” İnce told the crowd, “I promise you that I will not get rich before you get rich.”